It’s time to end those debates on which version of Batman is the best. Senseless diatribes over whether Tim Burton’s, Christopher Nolan’s or Zack Snyder’s vision of the character is superior need to come to a close. Frivolous feuds over who donned the costume best: Adam West, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Val Kilmer, George Clooney (hell no) or Ben Affleck? They’re all moot. Ditch the disputes, because the answer has been decided. The very best cinematic Batman is Will Arnett in the animated The Lego Batman Movie. From his incredible 9-pack abs, rugged persona, crime-dispensing prowess, outlandish gadgets and sharp wit to his impressive beat-boxing skills – this is the Batman to beat them all.
While it may seem in bad taste to start a review off by comparing it movies past, this is a film that does exactly that itself. More specifically, LEGO Batman perpetually compares itself to previous cinematic iterations of the Caped Crusader. It pokes fun at almost everything it can about the character, as well as the recent DC adaptions that have graced our screens (yes Suicide Squad, here’s looking at you!). This is without a doubt, the quintessential Batman film, unashamedly doing its best to make fun of everything it can and leave you laughing in its wake.
Resurrecting the tongue-in-cheek humour from The first Lego Movie, the Lego Batman Movie launches a barrage of jokes from the very first moment Will Arnett’s voice is heard, spectacularly breaking the fourth wall, to perhaps even better effect than another super-hero movie that we all know. It perfectly sets the tone and the audience’s expectations for the laugh-a-minute joyride ahead.
I was concerned that if the studio took the same approach with Batman, his sidekicks and his rogues gallery as they did in The Lego Movie, that they would run out of ideas to make a compelling film. I am happy to be proven wrong here. While the story still throws a cannonade of characters at you just as the first Lego Movie did, preventing any ideas from becoming stale, it’s firmly centered around Batman. As a masterstroke, there’s a surprisingly strong sense character development. To describe its plot as simplistically as possible: the film is about Batman and his relationships, or lack thereof, with others. Yes, there is the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) getting up to his usual tricks and an orphan boy that Batman mistakenly adopts who becomes Robin (Michael Cera), but the key motivation that drives the film forward is relationships. It sounds out of place for a movie that tries not to take itself seriously, but it works in spite of itself.
I don’t want to reveal too much more about the plot, but expect big, zippy action scenes with glorious amounts of bricky chaos, punctuated by charming scenes that add a ton of heart to characters you might have assumed you already knew. Also, be prepared to laugh. A lot. Practically every minute of The Lego Batman Movie is layered with an inside joke, gag or subtle jibe about something related to the expansive lore surrounding Gotham’s best detective, current events or pop culutre. It’s not just a silly, comic brand of humour either. Often its jokes are hard-hitting, incredibly clever and witty and most importantly, fresh. Yes, it’s an animated Lego movie, so it can also be quite absurd at times, but that’s part of its charm. Lego Batman features a core main cast that includes Gotham stalwarts like Batman’s butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), a new commissioner Gordon and Batgirl (Rosario Dawson) and Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate). The rest of the numerous supporting characters come not just from DC Comics, but a host other movie properties that get the whimsical LEGO treatment. Most are used brilliantly for comedic effect, and this also allows the story to feel bigger than it should. The voice acting is impressive and though most of the supporting cast don’t get a lot to say, they make the most of delivering their lines with incredible wit. And those pew-pew sound effects never grow old
It’s also quite astonishing how incredibly deep the The Lego Batman Movie is. Although it never allows these emotional moments too much time to seep in, the sobering themes of Batman’s loneliness and desires for family are poignant and powerful, and handled with surprising sensitivity by director Chris McKay. He manages to tackle this weighty themes in a simple and succinct manner, perfectly balancing the comedy and dysphoria without becoming overbearing. In many ways, this presents a more human, more real Batman than found in Batman films from decades past.
And while The Lego Batman Movie is aimed as a movie for kids and adults alike, like many films of this ilk are, it probably skews on the side of the older generation. That’s not because the humour or subject is mature by any stretch of the imagination. In fact it’s as giddily, erratically childlike as you would expect for a children’s movie. But many of the jokes in the film are about references to previous movies, pop culture and characters that children are unlikely to understand and they will end up simply laughing at the slap-stick stuff but miss out on most of the film’s sharp wit. The cinema where I watched was packed with children, and while they definitely enjoyed the film, the adults did most of the laughing.
As you may expect given the nature of the movie though, it’s perhaps a little overstuffed. There are simply too many characters to appreciate and it’s easy to miss a lot of the jokes if you aren’t paying close attention. Additionally, some of the end action sequences get a little chaotic and it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all that was happening on-screen. It’s a minor gripe for what is otherwise, likely to be the most fun you’ll have in the cinema this year.
The Lego Batman Movie takes that addictive and outrageously fun attitude from The Lego Movie and builds on it exponentially, managing to create a hilarious film that is instantly memorable and decidedly weighty. There are many impending superhero movies to look forward to this year, but no matter how incredible they end up being, they are unlikely to top The Lego Batman for the most fun superhero movie this year. Or perhaps, ever.